Chicago!

It’s only the second week of August, but it’s already turning out to be a fun month. Back in March or April Tim booked us a trip for my birthday, but didn’t tell me where we were going. All he said was that he booked us flights to somewhere in August and that I needed to take Friday off from work. Well, okay!

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He knows I don’t like surprises and probably just wanted to see if I could go several months without being snoopy to see where we were headed. I had a strong feeling we were heading to Chicago, so I never felt the need to snoop. There’s only a limited number of places you can go for roughly 3 days without spending half of a day in an airport.

So we got up and flew out of St. Louis at 7:30 AM this past Friday morning and headed north. It’s such an easy flight between St. Louis and Chicago—only 47 minutes! Once we arrived, we each paid $20 for a 3-day unlimited transit pass (totally worth it). The train and bus systems were so easy to use and took us to all of the major places we wanted to go. Most hotels charge close to $50/night to park your car so it was nice not having to pay that. We stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn, so we were able to hop on the Orange train line, eventually transfer to the Red line and get off at the Grand stop, which was directly outside our hotel. One thing I quickly learned was that I need to invest in carry-on luggage. All I have is my full sized suitcase, which was a pain to carry up and down flights of stairs while navigating the trains.

After dropping our bags off at the hotel and grabbing breakfast at Yolk, we headed up to Wrigleyville to bar hop and attend the Cubs vs Ray’s game. We stopped into Murphy’s Bleachers, The Cubby Bear and the Wrigleyville Goose Island Brewery location. Murphy’s reminded Tim and myself of the inside of Paddy O’s here in St. Louis and The Cubby Bear reminded us of Mike Shannon’s. Wrigley Field is actually a pretty neat stadium. It’s 100 years old, on the small side, only a couple advertisements in view and the scoreboard has to manually be updated. We sat low along the first base line and had a great view of the field.

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We were finally able to check into the hotel after the Cubs game. I loved that our room had a great view of the Marina City towers. What I didn’t love was the amount of street noise that comes with staying in the downtown area. It kept me up both nights we stayed there. Anyway, we were pretty wiped by this point in the day (that means we’re getting old because it was like 8 PM), so we walked across the street to Rock Bottom Brewery for a beer and appetizer on their roof. Not the most adventurous place to go check out, but by the time we left there was a line to get onto the roof.

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I was totally okay with going to bed early that night. I had gotten up before 5 AM and was getting up before 6 AM the next morning. My goal was to see Cloud Gate (The Bean) without the crowds!

—m.

30 Before 30: #1 Go to Australia (and New Zealand!!) = Done!

So this 30 Before 30 item was totally a given since we had already booked the trip before I made my list, but visiting Australia and New Zealand before I turn 30 would have still been on my list no matter what.

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We went through the travel company About Australia, and they were fantastic. Like with most travel companies, we were able to set a budget, tell them the length of trip we wanted, the time of year, and what we wanted to see and do while on our trip. They compiled an itinerary based on our wish list and their recommendations. From there, we were able to change and add anything to the itinerary. Our contact at About Australia is a native Australian, so he was super helpful and honest when it came to everything.

Waiting a year to take this trip as our honeymoon/1 year wedding anniversary was so worth it. It was nice to be able to spread out two really big events so we had something to look forward to. I wrote a post for each major excursion and the cities we visited—hopefully they’ll be of use to someone!

Auckland, New Zealand
Day trip between Auckland and Rotorua: Agrodome, Waitomo Glow Worm Caves & Te Puia
Rotorua, New Zealand 
White Island helicopter ride & tour
Queenstown, New Zealand
Doubtful Sound
Sydney, Australia
Sydney Opera House tour
Cairns, Australia
Snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef
Cape Tribulation & the Daintree Rainforest

Things we learned while on this trip…
A trip of this size really needs more than 2 weeks! We squeezed five cities and several excursions into this trip. We knew that we would be traveling quite a bit while down there, but I don’t think either one of us fully realized how much. I calculated that we spent 48 hours in the air on planes, and that doesn’t even include airport time! The flight between LAX and Auckland is 12 hours—so we had two of those!
• Alcohol is ridiculously expensive. The taxes are to thank for this.
• There is very little airport security (to go through) in Australia and next to none in New Zealand. We were shocked at this. At one of the airports in New Zealand, we walked in, checked into our flight, and walked directly over the gate where we would departing from. This airport was one big room. No metal detectors, scanners, pat downs…nothing. At another airport, we weren’t required to take off our shoes or jackets when going through security. It was also a bit of a reality check of how the airports are here in the US.

Things we didn’t do while on our trip…
We didn’t see any kangaroos or koalas. About the only place to see those animals while in Australia are at zoos or animal attractions, but we didn’t want to spend hours in a zoo when there was so much else to see and explore.
We didn’t try vegemite. The stuff looks gross…I mean a brown paste you spread on your toast? No thanks. We had the option to try it while on one of our excursions, but we both passed on it. We were told that it can be delicious if it’s eaten correctly. Still…no thanks.

If we ever get to go back…
We would most likely spend our entire trip in ONLY New Zealand. While I would love to go back and spend more time in Sydney, we were won over by New Zealand. The two islands are much bigger than you would think and the landscape of the two islands are so different from each other. It’s gorgeous, the people are incredibly nice, and there’s so much do to and see. Wellington and Christchurch are on our list, along with going back to the Queenstown area.
Air New Zealand is definitely the airline to fly. We were so impressed with the crew on all of our ANZ flights. Plus, all alcoholic beverages are included with the price of your ticket. On our way back to LAX, the flight wasn’t full and we lucked out getting the four middle seats to ourselves. We were able to really spread out and even lay down to sleep.

Big thanks to Paul at About Australia for helping us with amazing trip!

—m.